Friday, March 21, 2008

"Market Value"

A question for your blog:

What would you say to a gay man in his 40s who did all the hard work to come out and accept his sexuality two decades ago, but who now finds himself isolated, without confidence, and without a sex life because of...a psychiatric disorder?

I've been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder since I was 19 and it's been a rough ride, with lots of ups and downs, crushing mood swings, hospital stays, and interruptions of employment. But through it all I managed to continue to be persistent and work on having an "out" gay life: making gay friends, being active in gay organizations, dating, and keeping myself open to the possibility of a long-term relationship some day with someone who would love me and be attracted to me regardless of my health.

But recently it's become hard indeed to be optimistic about my romantic prospects. Two years ago I had a series of terrible manic episodes, alienated a lot of friends, lost a lot of money, lost a good job, and even had minor skirmishes with police. I am still not working and I get by on some savings and a modest Social Security disability check. I have to watch my money closely. I don't have a lot of hope for working full-time again, though it might happen. I am lonely. I feel very awkward about opening up about my illness to prospective new gay friends because I don't know how they would react. I think, and I believe accurately, that most gay men wanting dates or relationships want people without "baggage" and would not look kindly upon starting a new attachment to someone unstable or whose problems carry a lot of stigma.

To put it another way, I am discouraged because I think my "market value" in the gay dating game has plunged since I was young. I'm 20 years older than when I came out. I'm not in the greatest physical shape, partly because medication caused me to gain weight and it's hard to lose it. I'm not working (except for volunteering, which is fun), and I think gay guys really look for people with jobs and financial stability. I know I have good qualities...I'm smart, well-educated, creative, a great listener, empathetic (in part due to the rough experiences I have weathered). And I have many fascinating stories to tell. But still I can't get past the idea that 99% of the guys out there want to steer clear of someone like me, and that all those years of struggling to come out and tell everyone proudly that I was gay were wasted. Nothing much came from it. I'm basically cut off from the larger gay crowd now.

I am in therapy to explore these issues (no surprise!), but I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Yours, S.

First, I'm glad you're in therapy, because, as I'm sure you know, some things can't be solved or easily resolved even by the great Dr. Bill, LOL. However, I do have some positive things to say to you.

It may be true that most people -- gay or straight -- look for people without "baggage" when they're in the dating game, but it's also true that there are very few people who don't have some baggage. Regardless of sex or sexual orientation, loneliness may increase with age and people begin --although it sounds terrible to put it this way -- "settling," or -- to put it a better way -- becoming more realistic that there are very few princes out there, and that if you expect perfection in a person or relationship you're going to be either disappointed or alone. On dating sites most people put their best foot forward and don't mention the negatives. Total honesty is admirable, but there's no reason you should discuss anything so personal with someone who's simply an acquaintance. I would dare say that most people, no matter what their problems are, don't start revealing intimate, possibly "negative," details about themselves until they've gotten to know the other person better. Who knows what baggage the other person is carrying? (Be prepared. Once you "confess" -- or at least bring up some of your problems -- after a suitable period -- you may be surprised what the other person may tell you!)

Some men will be turned off by your problems and move on. Others may have come to like you so much that they'll want to continue. Give them time to get to know you and recognize your good qualities before you reveal all. As for not being in great shape, don't worry about it. As I've said before not all gay men are exercise nuts, and some guys are positively turned on by pot bellies. If necessary, you can always start an exercise program. As for money, people tend to think all gay men are rich, when the truth is that there are plenty of blue collar, and even unemployed, gay guys out there who won't judge you by your income level. I mean, first of all we're talking about sex and companionship, simply finding someone who's compatible. Perfection is not required in a friend or fuck buddy. It may lead to a relationship, or it may not. This is true whether you carry baggage or don't. [As for a sex life, the guys looking to get laid on gay dating sites don't really care about your baggage as long as you have a d--k!]

Don't worry too much about finding a lover. The forties is still young. Friends can help ease your sense of isolation and they're less likely to judge you or expect perfection. Sometimes friendship can deepen into something more.

If you do try online dating, you can usually tell from a guy's profile if he's the kind who only wants Men With Bucks, Hot Bodies, or Perfect Princes. Such guys are generally full of themselves and so are their profiles. And they don't hear from as many guys as you might imagine, no matter what they look like. Guys who act like they're just so special and want the same are often a turn-off. I mean, they're on the same dating site as everyone else so maybe they're not so special. Maybe they even have baggage they don't want everyone to know about.

Never, ever feel that the struggle to come out was "wasted." Your problems would be worse and even more difficult to deal with if you were also struggling with self-hatred and non-acceptance. Continue to have a healthy attitude toward being gay. Believe me, the biggest barrier to finding a lover is internalized homophobia. Most gay men can sense this problem in other men and that's the one thing that they don't want to have to deal with. It's impossible to have a healthy gay relationship if you hate yourself or hate being gay, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's the chief reason many are not in relationships.

You have a lot on your plate, but remember that you're not alone. Not only are their many gay men who have similar financial and health/psychiatric issues, there are those who are dealing with being HIV positive (talk about a lowered dating "market value," although even that can be dealt with, as there are support and social groups for HIV+ men). You could explore the possibilities of getting into a support group for men over forty and I'll bet you'll find that most of the guys have problems of some nature (which is equally true in the hetero community). Everyone has problems of one sort or another; that's life!

So try to keep a positive attitude. Let people get to know you and like you. Nobody is required to tell a new acquaintance everything about themselves.

Best of luck! Let me know if there's anything else I can help with.


Anonymous said...

It's me, the OP. Just wanted to say that it's been a year and a half since I wrote to you, and I'm doing OK. Still trying to sort things out. Still in counseling. But things aren't hopeless and life is OK. Your answer to my question was very useful. Thanks for caring.


Bill Samuels said...

Thanks very much. I'm glad I was able to help, even if in a small way.

Sometimes all we can ask for is that we're "okay," but as long as you've got hope you're in a good place.

Best of luck in the future!